GARDNER Under President Dan Asquino, expanding student perspective beyond the confines of the campus has been a major focus of Mount Wachusett Community College.
Through the Center for Civic Learning and Community Engagement, students collectively volunteered 16,830 hours of their time during the past academic year at service projects in the area.
On Tuesday, the college held a ceremony celebrating the students’ commitment to giving back and the staff who run the Center for Civic Learning.
“It’s you (the students) that are going to keep our country, our democracy alive, by volunteering and caring,” said Asquino.
Student Chelsea Garrity has worked in the Center for Civic Learning office and said that during her two years at the Mount her favorite experience in volunteering has been facilitating the Day of Caring this past year, which the school co-sponsors with the United Way of North Central Massachusetts.
Over 100 volunteers of students and staff were able to package 20,178 meals to be given out to local food pantries as part of the Day of Caring.
Garrity also helped restore a community garden in Fitchburg.
She said the experience of volunteering is “just amazing” and said she enjoys seeing the reactions and smiles on the faces of people who are helped.
She is graduating from the Mount with a Liberal Arts degree in Communications, and she said, “I hope wherever I go I can continue to dedicate as much time as I can.”
Student Rafaela Lopes was recognized as a winner of the prestigious Newman Civic Fellow Award at the ceremony.
The award is given out nationally by Campus Compact, a coalition of 1,100 college university presidents that the Mount and Asquino are a part of.
This year, Lopes was one of 218 students nationally to receive the award, which honors students for the community service they provide.
As a girl growing up in Brazil, she experienced being homeless and after coming to the U.S. seven years ago, she was inspired to care about others suffering from the same plight. She said her mission in life is to help others and spread kindness.
Lopes has volunteered with the United Way’s Youth Venture Program by giving birthday celebrations to homeless kids, volunteered for Habitat for Humanity, and this February organized a student trip to serve at a health center in a Haitian village. “She’s done some amazing things,” said Asquino.
Lopes is enrolled in the Mount’s Gateway to College Program and is set to graduate from high school this spring and finish her associate’s degree in Liberal Arts and Sciences in the fall.
Every student who volunteered 100 or more hours through the Center for Civic Learning and Community Engagement was recognized at Tuesday’s ceremony, and there were quite a few of them.
Retired state Sen. Stephen Brewer, D-Barre, also spoke at the event, commending Asquino for his leadership at the state level in having colleges encourage their students to give back to their communities.
Brewer reminded students that democracy only works with an active, engaged citizenry and that government cannot do everything alone, making service projects all the more important.
“There is a value and a virtue in these programs,” he said.